Do Internal or External Characteristics More Reliably Predict Burnout in Resident Physicians: A Multi-institutional Study

C. Haddon Mullins, Frank Gleason, Tara Wood, Samantha J. Baker, Alexander R. Cortez, Brendan Lovasik, Gurjit Sandhu, Amanda Cooper, Amy N. Hildreth, Jon D. Simmons, Keith A. Delman, Brenessa Lindeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: Surgical residents have been shown to experience high rates of burnout. Whether this is influenced predominately by intrinsic characteristics, external factors, or is multifactorial has not been well studied. The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between these elements and burnout. We hypothesized that residents with higher emotional intelligence scores, greater resilience and mindfulness, and better work environments would experience lower rates of burnout. METHODS: General surgery residents at 7 sites in the US were invited to complete an electronic survey in 2019 that included the 2-item Maslach Burnout Inventory, Brief Emotional Intelligence Scale, Revised Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale, 2-Item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, and Job Resources scale of the Job Demands-Resources Questionnaire. Individual constructs were assessed for association with burnout, using multivariable logistic regression models. Residents’ scores were evaluated in aggregate, in groups according to demographic characteristics, and by site. RESULTS: Of 284 residents, 164 completed the survey (response rate 58%). A total of 71% of respondents were at high risk for burnout, with sites ranging from 57% to 85% (p = 0.49). Burnout rates demonstrated no significant difference across gender, PGY level, and respondent age. On bivariate model, no demographic variables were found to be associated with burnout, but the internal characteristics of emotional intelligence, resilience and mindfulness, and the external characteristics of work engagement and job resources were each found to be protective against burnout (p < 0.001 for all). However, multivariable models examining internal and external characteristics found that no internal characteristics were associated with burnout, while job resources (coeff. −1.0, p-value <0.001) and work engagement (coeff. −0.76, p-value 0.032) were significantly protective factors. Rates of engagement overall were high, particularly with respect to work “dedication.” CONCLUSIONS: A majority of residents at multiple institutions were at high risk for burnout during the study period. Improved work engagement and job resources were found to be more strongly associated with decreased burnout rates when compared to internal characteristics. Although surgical residents appear to already be highly engaged in their work, programs should continue to explore ways to increase job resources, and further research should be aimed at elucidating the mediating effect of internal characteristics on these external factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e86-e93
JournalJournal of surgical education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Education


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